Green Tea Sherbert

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grand Canyon Run Rim to Rim to Rim

The GCR3 was voted as a Rave Run in Runner's World and one of the top 25 trail runs in America. So when some of my friends from Vancouver invited me to join them, I figured I had better do it. I knew I was going to have a kid soon, so I had better get this type of thing done now whilst I am still a d.i.n.k.

I hadn't done all that much running in the last few years. After running the West Coast Trail in 2006 I had really not done much running training. But I felt I was pretty fit from cycling and xc skiing, so I figured, barring injury, I would be able to pull it off with about a year's notice.

February - A couple of casual Sunday 10km runs with the Boulder Road Runner's.
March - A couple of runs a week, getting ready for the Bolder Boulder. Some intervals here and there.
April - Same. Really picking up the cycling now, getting ready for Ride the Rockies.
May - Run Bolder Boulder. Get stitch at about 6km and have to stop and walk for a few minutes. Tough uphill course though. Starting to do 2-3 hour trail runs in Boulder.
June - Ride the Rockies. After Ride the Rockies, 2 runs/wk. one 2-3 hours, plus a 10km run.
July - Ran the Boulder Backroads marathon course with my friend Stephen Meratla. I had convinced him to run the GCR3 with us, so it was good to have a training partner for those long training runs. Mesa Trail, and sometimes up Bear Peak.
August - Starting to do some monster 3-4 hour trail runs with huge elevation gain. Usually Bear Peak up West Ridge. Then a 10km run in the week. Training sporadic due to 10 day trip to Vancouver. In Vancouver I did lots of hiking and a four day mtn bike trip with 6-9 hour rides on most days.
September - Last week in September I did a 5 hour run - 3 Peaks. Start South Mesa Trail, up Towhee to South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, West Ridge Trail to Green Mtn. Down Saddle Rock to Ranger Station.
October -1st weekend - Chautauqua- 2.5 hour run up Mesa, West Ridge to Green Mtn, down to Chautauqua. Then a 10km run on the road with Stephen.

My knees usually started to feel a bit sore after a big weekend run if I really pushed the downhill but they were usually pretty good. Unfortunately I had gone for a short 10km run with Stephen a few days before and my knee had felt sore even to just walk ever since. In fact at the pre-run dinner I told all my friends that I would likely be turning around at the river which is about a third of the way to the North Rim.

At the end of my long runs I would often feel pretty nauseous and I once harfed (called Ralph on the porcelain telephone) all over the living room floor. Thanks Sharon for cleaning it all up! After a bit of googling I figured I had the symptoms of hyponatremia. I seemed to be able to prevent it by eating salt tablets, salty crackers and pretzels. They were a welcomed break from energy bars.

The Route
South Kaibab down, over to the North Rim, back on the Bright Angel Trail.
11000 feet of elevation gain
76km total.
Temperature - A surprise cold front had come in. There was snow on the rim.
0 C at start, ~25C in the canyon during mid day. Most of the time it was ~15 degrees. Perfect.

I didn't bring any tights or really warm gear, so I was worried about being really cold when finishing and starting.

Photo Links
Willy has the most complete set of photos:

13 bars - A mix of Cliff, Pro bars, Odwalla Bars.
5 gels - Gu, Honey Stinger. No caffeine
bag of gluten free pretzel sticks.
15 salted multigrain crackers
10x200iu ibuprofen
25 salt tablets

Allan had ordered lunch for all of us from the Phantom Ranch. Bagel, cream cheese, electrolyte drink, sausage, raisins, pretzels. It sounded great.

There was lots of debate over food. I had about 4 bars and 2 gels left over at the end. I only ate half a bagel and the pretzels. The rest I gave back. I didn't think I would be able to digest it all and I certainly didn't want to have to carry it. I gave away a bunch of pretzels and crackers at the end as well.

What it's all about.
  • Camelbak Octane 2L running pack
  • conventional Montrail runners
  • Garmin 310xt GPS watch
  • GoLite running shorts with two front pockets for quick access to food and a rear zip pocket for credit cards and cash.
  • GoLite running cap
  • Bolder Boulder Running T-shirt
  • Contact lens case of sunscreen
  • pocket medical kit
  • Duct tape (taped to medical kit). Great for blisters
  • Nikon point and shoot camera

The Who
Willy, Alan, Duhane, Tomi, Magnus, Chloe, Steven, Stephen
Friends with whom I would run, xc ski and goof around with from Vancouver.
It was fantastic to catch up with these yahoos again and the 14 hour low intensity run allowed us quite a bit of time for idle chit chat.

The Run

Because I was so excited about the run I only managed a 3 hour sleep, but we all agreed that the amount of sleep the night before didn't matter that much.

Planned to start at 4:30AM. Actual start was at 4:45 AM. Got lost (tick tock tick tock...
) looking for not so well sign posted South Kaibab trail. Willy's wife Iona and Alan's wife Natalie got up at 3:30AM just to drive us to the start.

We started in the dark with headlamps with the temperature hovering around freezing with me wondering why I had gotten out of my warm bed. Two steps into the canyon Chloe had to pop a Tylenol because her knee was already giving her issues. This actually gave me some confidence. I figured if Chloe was in worse pain than me, I would be able to grow some and make it all the way as well. I could feel my knee, but it wasn't that painful. I popped an Advil about 1/2 hour in.

The stars were incredibly bright. We couldn't really see down very far but there were 1000' sharp drop-offs just beside the trail. The quick way down. I kept telling myself to just look straight ahead on the trail because I recall a story of another runner twisting his ankle when he was looking at the drop.

It was interesting seeing a bunch of headlamps in the canyon below us. I guess we weren't alone. I couldn't rationalize why people would be trying to get out of the canyon at dawn.

The sun finally started coming up after about half an hour. It was invigorating to see the sunrise in the canyon. You could sense everyone's spirits rising. Willy was singing at this point and there was a lot more chatter.

We got to phantom ranch at 40 minutes, topped up water, emptied bladders and stashed our warm clothes under a rock.

The next part was the most enjoyable running. Right along the canyon floor where it was fairly flat, and the running surface was relatively smooth wide dirt and rock trail. Most of us felt good so we pushed the pace a little bit. Unfortunately Chloe's knee prevented her from being able to go on. Sadly she turned around at about half way. I think it turned into an 8 hour run for her. Not bad for a bum knee. I got a little nervous now because I knew I was probably the next most injured person. I popped another advil and kept going. Actually my knee had started to feel better now that we weren't descending anymore.

We slogged it up the 5000 feet to the top of the north rim. 6.5 hours. Ugh. I felt pretty tired going up. I wasn't sure if I would be able to turn around and go all the way back. Meanwhile Willy booted on way ahead of us. Last night he mentioned he smoked all through his twenties.

These energy bars were wreaking havoc with my GI system. I really enjoyed the newly cleaned outhouses at the top of the North Rim.
Willy had stashed some coke and Gatorade at the top of the North Rim. We were all now jacked up on high fructose corn syrup so we just flew down the North Rim. Woot. This was easy.

We had some small celebrations at 42.2 km (a marathon) and at 50km (the farthest that Duhane, Alan and Magnus had ever run before). Willy was hauling ass. He would run ahead of us to video us, then be behind us, then run ahead again.

We ran right to Phantom Ranch (60km) with very few stops. Here we had a break. Another stop at the beautifully clean toilets to deal with my GI system. I am just glad I didn't have to go on the trail. The salty crackers seemed to help a lot, but I was getting to the point where I could not get down any energy bars or gels. Pretty dangerous when we had about 6000' of climbing to go.

We grabbed our lunches from Phantom Ranch. All I could stomach was half a bagel and the apple. I kept the bag of pretzels for later.
Other than my GI system, my legs and rest of my body felt great. Then we hit the last 4kms up to the top of the South Rim. My GPS said we didn't have far to go distance wise, so I was thinking we were almost there. Maybe we could do this in 13 hours? Unfortunately that last climb went on forever. I hung on with the fast group of Magnus (X-Bionic) and Willy for most of the way, but then my stomach seemed to get the better of me. I had to stop and sit down because I felt so nauseous. I thought I might need a push up the hill. I ate a few more salty pretzels and crackers, downed some salt tablets and felt a little better so I slowly started to walk again. I was in between groups at this point and felt sorry for myself.

Shortly after I ran into a tough guy high-school football player and his girlfriend who were stopped in the dark at the side of the trail. They had water but no more food. I gave them a couple of salt tablets and some pretzels. I should have given them an energy bar too... It probably took them hours to do get up in the dark. I felt sorry for them, but I didn't want to go at their pace because I had been climbing for about 3 hours and I just wanted to get to the end.

At 14.20 I finished alone in the dark. We had a great dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge. I had a soup, salad, a Trout dinner, then almost a full spaghetti dinner on top of that. I also drank about a litre of water and Sprite at dinner. I was so dehydrated that I kept drinking all night and didn't have to go to the bathroom for hours still. My urine was dark orange and stank every time I went to the bathroom for the next 24 hours.. ughh.

We all felt great at dinner. For us endorphin junkies, we had just got our fix. Most of us had been training for most of the year for this. I am so glad it went well for us. As Alan, the organiser, said: "an amazing experience with a fantastic group". You only get the opportunity to do these things a few times in your life. It can be tempting to bail out because of other commitments. I sacrificed a bunch of bike races and delayed getting on with jobs around the house. I really have to thank Sharon, my wife, for being so understanding!


Blogger Tim said...

Now I really want to do the canyon! Not running it, like a moron, just see it :) what an awesome trip...Thx for the detailed trip report.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Will Schuurman said...

Great write-up Steven. Thanks for recording & posting it, sure was a great run with great people with perfect conditions.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey guys - you guys are truly awesome. Congrats on successfully reaching your GCR3 goal! Thanks for sharing the write-up and the photos. Certainly has me thinking I need to re-think my fitness goals...
Thanks Stephane

10:09 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Looks beautiful - a great place to go for a hike, but not to run it like a moron, as Tim said.

1:13 PM  

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